Comedy and farce are king in Regent's Park Open Air Theatre's adaptation of Shakespeare’s comedy of mistaken identities.

It's staged on a set dominated by the sea-blue cafe ‘Olivia’ - a place director Owen Horsley describes as a “queer, happy space” that has “now lost the party”.

Shipwrecked twins Viola (Evelyn Miller) and Sebastian (Andro Cowperthwaite) arrive there, both assuming the other lost to the waves.

Viola soon disguises herself as the eunuch Cesario, and assists the Duke Orsino, (Raphael Bushay) to win the favour of grieving matriarch and cafe owner Olivia - played in show-stealing fashion by Anna Francolini.

Hackney Gazette: Michael Matus plays Toby Belch as a drag queen in Olivia's CafeMichael Matus plays Toby Belch as a drag queen in Olivia's Cafe (Image: Richard Lakos)

But Olivia soon sets her sights on Cesario, serenading him with his own poeticisms: Make me a willow cabin at your gate/ and call upon my soul within the house, she croons in one of composer Sam Kenyon’s original songs.

Sebastian meanwhile meets Antonio  – in this version they are lovers, rather than mere “friends”.

The exuberance of the comedy is where this adaptation of Twelfth Night shines brightest, even if it is at the expense of the play’s darker themes.

Hackney Gazette: Richard Cant as MalvolioRichard Cant as Malvolio (Image: Richard Lakos)

Entering in a black veil, a seven-foot trail dragging behind her, Francolini's Olivia is risible in her funereal garb and the highlight of the show.

Richard Cant’s obsequious Malvolio, Michael Matus’ drag queen Toby Belch, and Matthew Spencer’s suitor-to-be Andrew Aguecheek, each add to the slapstick mood.

Cant's physical comedy is expert at suggesting Malvolio’s arrogant reciept of fabricated love-letters from Olivia is delightful, and his appearance in yellow cross-garters, begging for a love unrequited.

But the comedy misses some of the play's depth. Love and grief as themes appear neglected throughout; Viola and Orsino’s chemistry is sparse, and their union feels undeserved when it arrives. 

Strange too, is Sebastian’s abandoning Nicholas Karimi's Antonio and eloping with Olivia - only to return to him at the play’s denouement.

Focusing on the bacchanalian weakens a play that should be strengthened by complementary highs and lows.

While restoring life to the party, Horsley's Twelfth Night somehow leaves you wanting more.

Twelfth Night Runs at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre until June 8.